Snap Chat. Whats App. Voxer. With new online messaging and communications applications seemingly popping up daily, parents more than ever need to be mindful of their children’s technology and social media use, health care providers caution.
“Technology is great, but it has consequences, especially on our younger population,” says Dr. Christopher Min, a CHOC psychologist.
And while valuable, the convenience and speed of social media and technology can also have lasting impacts: Dr. Min estimates that social media or technology use surface in about half of his patient cases, and he’s seen suicide attempts that were related somehow to social media or technology.
“Teenagers’ lives are very much revolving around these things,” he said. “It’s made teenage culture very unstable.”
Risky behavior and teens
Teens might be more inclined to participate in risky behavior online for both physical and emotional reasons. First, while their bodies and hormonal systems are fully developed, their brains are not, Dr. Min says.
“Brain development is far from over,” he says. “Their brains have not matured to the point that they can always prioritize, put on the brakes and consider consequences before acting.”
Secondly, teens feel significant pressure to be accepted. They also have a distorted perception of what’s normal because they are so encapsulated in their age group, school and circle of friends, he says.
“Acceptance to a peer group is very important,” says Dr. Min. “Adolescents will go to great lengths to be accepted into a group, or to feel like they are.”
Tips for parents
Every parent wants their child to feel comfortable and happy with friends, but they also want them to stay safe. To that end, Dr. Min has several tips for parents of children using social media and technology:
1. Monitor teens’ social media use.
To what extent a parent should track social media activity depends on the child, Dr. Min says, but parents need to be aware how a child uses these tools. Monitoring can be accomplished through regular discussions or more formal means such as sharing log-in information, depending on the child’s responsibility level.
2. Encourage teens to get together in person.
The underlying reason for social media is create a sense of connectedness, and this can be accomplished faster than meeting in person. Instead, parents can help create connections by facilitating actual meetings with people, Dr. Min says.
“Be that cool mom or cool dad who makes it fun and cool to hang out at the house,” he advises.
3. Remember that parents control access to social media.
Dr. Min reminds parents that they pay for Internet or cell phone access. Parents should exercise authority and reason with teens by stating clear consequences and rewards for social media use.
“In treatment, I like to help parents realize that in the structure of the family, the control has to rest in the parents,” he says. “They don’t need to be powerless.”
Tips for teens
Dr. Min also has advice for teens. He recommends that teens who are ready to post something online instead pause for five to 10 seconds to consider their actions, the post’s meaning and possible consequences.
“This will help them in not posting things that they don’t want cemented on the Internet forever,” he says.
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The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.